“It is far easier to concentrate power than to concentrate knowledge. That’s why so much social engineering backfires….” 

— Thomas Sowell

In New Hampshire, Republicans tend to think of themselves as opposed to government regulations, especially ones that can be called “social engineering.” And yet Democrats don’t have a monopoly on such efforts. 

A recent example is House Bill 1469, which originally would have prohibited banks from using so-called “social credit scores.” An amendment improved the bill by tightening its prohibitions, but it remains a solution in search of a problem. 

The idea is that the state must protect individuals and groups from financial institutions that attempt to “discriminate” based on “ideological, philosophical, or political views and opinions.”

Yet in seeking to protect some rights, the bill violates others. 

It states that financial institutions may not “advocate for or cause adverse treatment of, any person, business, or organization in their business practices” for various political, ideological or philosophical reasons “unless such action is necessary for the physical safety of its employees.”

This wording would go well beyond prohibiting banks from turning away customers whose politics bank officials might dislike. It would constrain the ability of financial institutions to advocate or support particular charitable causes, make public statements on a range of issues, and even manage their own brand and contractors.

Such efforts to micromanage corporate business practices usually come from the political left. They create no fewer problems when they emerge from the right.

Republicans might see this overreach more clearly if it comes in a familiar form. House Bill 1538, for example, would mandate that laborers on public works projects be paid the prevailing wage. 

The assumption that legislators know enough to pick the correct wage for construction projects differs little from the assumption that legislators know enough to micromanage the business practices of financial institutions. 

A longstanding bipartisan example of legislators using power to replace others’ judgment is the state’s driver’s education mandate. This is not a classic market intervention, as setting the requirements for using public roads is appropriate government rule-making. But this law nonetheless involves legislators mistaking power for knowledge and wisdom. It doubles as a protection for a particular industry to boot.   

New Hampshire requires that minors take an approved driver’s education course before getting a driver’s license. The mandate is based on three presumptions: 1) there is tremendous value in driver’s education courses; 2) the public is too unwise to recognize this value; 3) legislators have enough expert knowledge to justify imposing this requirement on the public. 

None of these presumptions is true. 

Going back decades, so many studies on this topic found that driver’s education offers no significant safety gains for young drivers that this was long the conventional wisdom. The research is mixed, however, and some studies have found benefits. The trouble is that evaluating programs is difficult, and limitations on the quality of research have made it hard to determine a definitive answer. 

And yet the state forbids minors from getting a driver’s license without first taking an expensive course of questionable value. 

Ultimately, if a student can pass the state’s driver’s test, it shouldn’t matter who taught the student to drive. The test itself should be the ticket to a driver’s license. Yet the only legal pathway for a minor to get a license is through a professional driver’s education program.

House Bill 1208 would fix this disconnect between the research and the law by giving parents who possess a driver’s license the option of teaching their own children to drive.

It wouldn’t end private driver’s education instruction. It would just give families the option of providing it themselves rather than hiring someone else to do it. Teens would still have to pass the state driver’s exam. That seems reasonable given the cost of these programs and the lack of conclusive evidence that they make roads significantly safer. 

Not all regulations are harmful, of course, and sometimes legislators do make well-informed decisions. But as these examples illustrate, the impulse to impose a preferred outcome seldom comes with enough knowledge to conclude that the imposition is wise. 

One of the hottest beauty trends of the last few years is the blow-dry bar. These semi-salons offer rapid hair styling services for a night out or a special event. But their expansion in New Hampshire is restricted because of the state’s outdated occupational licensing laws. 

To open a shop that offers hair washing and drying, and maybe some makeup application as well, one must have a full cosmetology license.

The training requirements for those licenses are expensive, time consuming and entirely unnecessary for niche beauty services such as hair washing or makeup application. 

New Hampshire’s cosmetology license requires — by law — a minimum of 1,500 hours of training in a state-approved cosmetology school or 3,000 hours of training for at least 18 months under a licensed cosmetologist. And cosmetology school costs about $20,000.  

Those requirements are excessive. (Massachusetts requires 1,000 hours of training) They’re ludicrous for someone who just wants to apply makeup or wash hair for a living. Yet that’s the law. 

Rep. Diane Pauer, R-Brookline, wants to fix that. She’s introduced House Bill 1171, which would exempt niche beauty services from state licensing requirements. 

The bill would make it legal to offer “blow-dry styling” (which includes “shampooing, conditioning, drying, arranging, curling, straightening, or styling hair”), eyelash extension application, makeup application, and eyebrow threading without having to get an expensive state license.

These are safe, common practices that people do for themselves, their families and their friends every day. None involves chemical agents or specialty tools that require advanced training. 

The bill also would exempt makeup application and similar cosmetic beauty services from licensure when offered for demonstration (at a department store makeup counter, for example) or for theatrical, photographic, television and media appearances.

New Hampshire is one of only 10 states without such licensing exemptions. Every bordering state offers at least some of these exemptions. 

Vermont exempts makeup application for “theatrical and performing arts industries.”

Maine exempts makeup application for theater, movies, television, modeling and retail demonstration. 

Massachusetts exempts from cosmetology licensure anyone doing demonstrations of cosmetology products. It requires a separate demonstrator registration. 

Here’s an example of the absurdity of New Hampshire’s current cosmetology license requirements:

Bernie Sanders would not need a licensed cosmetologist to apply his makeup were he to perform in a Burlington, Vt., theater production of “Battleship Potemkin.” But he did need one to apply his makeup when doing a TV hit from the campaign trail in New Hampshire. 

It would be silly to claim that Bernie’s health and safety were put at risk by unlicensed Vermont makeup artists. But the health and safety claim is what has kept New Hampshire from carving out sensible exemptions for simple services such as applying powder for TV hits and makeup for actors, or hair washing services at a blow-dry bar.

Licensing regulations vary by state, sometimes by a lot, sometimes a little. New Hampshire law allows barbers and cosmetologists licensed in other states to practice here, provided that the other state’s license requirements are “substantially equivalent to or higher than” New Hampshire’s.

Pauer has a bill to change that too. HB 1560 would strip this subjective equivalency language and let practitioners licensed in other states practice here.  

New Hampshire requires 800 hours of training in an approved school, or 1,600 hours of training under a licensed barber, to obtain a barber’s license. That’s much less onerous than what is required in many other states, especially our neighbors. 

Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts require 1,000 hours of training. Connecticut and Rhode Island require 1,500 hours. But some other states have hours requirements that might just miss being deemed “substantially equivalent” to New Hampshire’s. 

Oregon, for example, requires 746 hours of training, with 465 of those being in practical operations.

The subjective language in New Hampshire’s statute is unnecessary. Stripping it would leave the requirement that the applicant be “similarly licensed in another state,” which is sufficient. 

The changes proposed by both of these bills would remove license requirements that aren’t necessary and that can serve as a barrier to entrepreneurship (in the case of HB 1171) and the in-migration of licensed professionals (in the case of HB 1560). 

With New Hampshire’s severe labor shortage, reducing needless barriers to entering the state’s labor market is an easy call, and one that comes with a greater sense of urgency than it has in a long time. 

On Feb. 1, amid a critical shortage of health care personnel in New Hampshire, the licenses of 22,328 medical workers were set to expire. That’s 26% of health care workers licensed to practice in the state. 

In January, the state’s Office of Professional Licensure and Certification (OPLC) prevented that disaster by issuing an emergency rule to extend the licenses — for four more months. 

When that rule expires on May 31, all of those licenses will expire with it. 

Unless the Legislature acts before then, Granite Staters will lose access to tens of thousands of medical professionals, including 951 mental health counselors, 1,064 social workers, 1,114 psychologists, 2,104 Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, and 14,920 physicians. 

Many of those, such as psychologists, are offering services remotely. Others, including a lot of physicians, were licensed under bulk applications and might have few New Hampshire patients. Others, such as nurses, fill staff positions in New Hampshire.

All of them were granted temporary emergency licenses during the pandemic. Those licenses were extended through January, then again through May. Legislators so far have refused to pass a law to make these licenses permanent, or to grant permanent recognition of out-of-state health care licenses. 

A health care system in crisis mode

Nearly two years after the first COVID case was documented in New Hampshire, health care in the state is being triaged through a rolling series of emergency professional license extensions. 

“We get calls all day saying, ‘We need you to approve this license right away,’” Lindsey Courtney, executive director of the OPLC said. 

“It’s mostly hospitals or residential or long-term-care facilities. And often it’s because they’re bringing in travelers. They’ll call a staffing agency and they’ll be told, ‘I can get you five people, but they have to be licensed tomorrow.’”

Because obtaining a permanent state license can take months, quickly licensing those new hires is done under a stop-gap fix the Legislature passed last year. It lets the OPLC offer temporary, 120-day licenses to health care workers.

“I would say that’s how the bulk of the traveling nurses get licensed,” Courtney said. “They don’t even seek a permanent license because they’re going to be here less than four months. If they had to seek a regular license, I’m not sure where we’d be.”

In seven health care fields, more than a third of licensed practitioners hold emergency licenses, a review of state licensing data shows. In two fields, the percentage is close to two thirds.

Percentage of licensed health care practitioners who hold an emergency license: 

Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors    36%

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse        39%

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers     44%

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor           45%

Marriage and Family Therapists         47%

Psychologists        63%

Physicians             65%

Courtney has pressed legislators to provide a permanent fix by simply letting her office recognize out-of-state health care licenses. 

It’s hardly a new idea. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a brief arguing for medical license reciprocity in 1899. But every time it is proposed in New Hampshire, licensing boards object. 

Dominance of state licensing boards

Professional licensing in New Hampshire is conducted by 54 different state licensing boards. Thirty-five of those regulate health care occupations. 

In theory, giving current practitioners the ability to license new entrants into their field raises quality. In reality, it reduces the number of practitioners and gives established license holders the power to restrict competition.

For health care occupations, that is bad for patients, said Morris Kleiner, the AFL-CIO chair in labor policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and an expert on occupational licensing.

If New Hampshire doesn’t make these licenses permanent, it could harm Granite Staters by suddenly and sharply reducing access to care, he said.

“Not having the licenses, or revoking them, reduces the supply of labor and reduces access of patients to these important, healing occupations,” he said.

Senate Bill 277, sponsored by Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, would offer another temporary fix by extending the 22,328 emergency health care licenses, set to expire May 31, for another two years. That would stretch these “emergency” licenses out for four years in total. 

At a Jan. 11 Senate hearing on the bill, the OPLC offered an amendment to have the licenses made permanent. The Board of Psychologists opposed the amendment, saying it would amount to “rubber-stamping the approval of an out-of-state license” and therefore diminish the quality of care offered to patients in New Hampshire. 

Currently, 1,114 psychologists hold a temporary emergency license to practice in New Hampshire. They far outnumber the 645 psychologists who hold a permanent license. If these emergency licenses were to be made permanent, it would increase the number of permanently licensed psychologists by 73%. 

During the state of emergency, New Hampshire granted licenses in bulk to Massachusetts health care providers who accepted Medicare and Medicaid. This ensured that New Hampshire patients could see their caregivers remotely. In some cases, a large health care facility made a bulk application on behalf of its employees who might have New Hampshire patients. Bulk submissions can cover a lot of providers who don’t regularly see New Hampshire patients, or who don’t intend to move to the state. (Many of the emergency-licensed physicians fall into this category.)

About 35% of the emergency licenses for psychologists were part of a bulk submission. The rest of the applications came from individuals. That represents “a significant increase in the number of people who were actually practicing,” Courtney said. “Those were probably people conducting a lot of telehealth services with patients, probably a lot of cross-border care.”

“Mental health is continuing to operate in a largely telehealth platform,” she added.

Another bill, Senate Bill 330, sponsored by Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, would authorize the OPLC to license practitioners who work in other states in which the requirements for licensure are substantially similar to those in New Hampshire. 

Both bills have bipartisan support in the Senate. But hostility to SB 330 from some licensing boards and licensed professionals suggests that a permanent fix to the problem is unlikely this year. 

It’s an uphill battle, given the political strength of licensing boards, Professor Kleiner said.

“The only state that has extended the temporary licenses and made them permanent is your neighbor in Massachusetts,” he said. “Most other states have let the temporary licenses expire, and that’s unfortunate given the spike in the number of COVID cases we’ve seen.”

An outdated system

State licensing boards typically meet monthly and approve license applications at their meetings. Though modern technology allows instant online application submissions, New Hampshire’s licensing system operates on a 19th century schedule of in-person meetings and infrequent reviews. Getting an application approved through the regular process can take months.

“Vermont’s doing it in 24 hours, and we’re competing for the same licensed person,” Courtney said. “You have to keep up with the times, and people are not going to wait around 60 days.”

Vermont a few years ago overhauled its professional licensure process to make it easier and faster to get a state license. (The reform was funded by a federal grant received in 2018.) 

The Green Mountain state processes all applications online and offers fast-track recognition for professionals who hold out-of-state licenses in many occupations. Under Vermont law, three years of experience practicing a regulated occupation in another state is considered sufficient experience to qualify for licensure.

“Colorado and Vermont are among the most efficient in the country at getting licenses processed,” Professor Kleiner said. “Vermont’s very efficient.”

Arizona passed a universal license reciprocity law in 2019. Since then, 4,000 people have used it to obtain state licenses. 

Such comprehensive reforms have never gotten far in New Hampshire. Some state boards have made improvements, for example by passing rules to allow the OPLC to process license applications between meetings. Others, including the boards for psychologists and licensed alcohol and drug counselors, haven’t. 

“We have a psychologist who lapsed his license,” Courtney said. “He’s been practicing for 30 years. He also practices in another state. It took him a month. If he had had patients, that would’ve been problematic because he would’ve had to choose between cutting them off or committing a violation.”

No serious complaints

Licensing boards often object to automatic reciprocity by arguing that it would jeopardize public health and safety. The record of the last two years suggests otherwise. 

The governor’s emergency order recognizing out-of-state health care licenses in New Hampshire took effect on March 23, 2020. Since then, 22,328 emergency licenses have been issued. Yet the state has received only two complaints about emergency license holders, Sen. Hennessey testified during the Jan. 11 meeting of the Senate Finance Committee. 

Neither of those complaints was serious enough to go to a hearing, Courtney said.

The number of practitioners operating under an emergency license varies by field. They include a single acupuncturist, six midwives, nine optometrists, 25 dietitians, and 92 licensed alcohol and drug counselors. In fields with significant shortages, the numbers can be substantial. Emergency licensees include 1,064 licensed clinical social workers, 2,104 Advance Practice Registered Nurses, and 14,920 physicians.

Far from creating a public health problem, these emergency licensees likely saved numerous lives by providing services that would not have been offered otherwise. Hospitals and nursing homes in particular have relied on emergency licenses to stay staffed during the last two years. 

Even with these additional health care workers, some facilities have had to close rooms and limit services. Were it not for the thousands of additional staff made available through emergency licensure, these closures would have been much worse. 

Despite the stressful conditions and difficult working environment that has prevailed for two years, only a few complaints have been made against emergency licensees, and none was serious enough to bring to a hearing. The tiny number of complaints is powerful evidence that the safety concerns regarding large-scale license reciprocity are unfounded, according to Courtney.

“I think we’ve shown that the world doesn’t end and the sky doesn’t fall when we remove some barriers for licensure,” she said. 

 

A House bill considered in committee this week would deny much of New Hampshire access to the most advanced telecommunications technologies.

House Bill 1644 would require “telecommunications antennas” to be placed “at least 1,640 feet from residentially zoned areas, parks, playgrounds, hospitals, nursing homes, day care centers, and schools.”

The bill’s stated purpose is to protect people from the “significant public health risk associated with the cumulative effects of radio frequency radiation which is growing every day with the proliferation of cell tower transmitters.”

Some people who believe that cell phone radiation causes cancer think that 1,640 feet, or 500 meters, is the minimum safe distance from a cellular network antenna. 

But this fear is unfounded, according to hundreds of studies and numerous public health agencies and organizations: 

  • The Food and Drug Administration concluded in February of 2020 that “there is no consistent or credible scientific evidence of health problems caused by the exposure to radio frequency energy emitted by cell phones.” The FDA report noted that brain cancer cases have declined as mobile phone use has grown.
  • An Australian study published in March of 2021 reviewed 138 studies of radio frequency fields consistent with 5G networks. It found “no confirmed evidence that low-level RF fields above 6 GHz such as those used by the 5 G network are hazardous to human health.”  
  • The World Health Organization concluded in 2014 that “no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that “we do not have the science to link health problems to cell phone use” at this time.
  • “At this time, there’s no strong evidence that exposure to RF waves from cell phone towers causes any noticeable health effects,” the American Cancer Society has concluded. 
  • The National Cancer Institute notes that cell phone radiofrequency “energy is too low to damage DNA” and that the “only consistently recognized biological effect of radiofrequency radiation absorption in humans that the general public might encounter is heating to the area of the body where a cell phone is held (e.g., the ear and head). However, that heating is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature. There are no other clearly established dangerous health effects on the human body from radiofrequency radiation.”

Were legislators to pass the bill out of a misplaced sense of caution, the economic and quality of life effects would be substantial — and negative. The Town of Amherst shows how. 

Amherst’s zoning map shows that residential/rural zoning covers 62.7% of the town, and “Northern Rural” zoning, where single-family homes are allowed, covers another 24.43%. That leaves little room for new telecommunications antennas. The bill would shrink the remaining zones by 1,640 feet from any side that touches a residential zone, and it would create no-antenna zones around every park, playground, hospital, nursing home, day care center, and school.

Further, if “residentially zoned areas” means any zone that allows any residential use, then the areas where antennas would be allowed would shrink to a tiny fraction of available land in any given community.

Consider Charlestown, a community in dire need of economic development. A look at its zoning map shows that the vast majority of the town is zoned either “mixed use” or “residential/rural.” Residential dwellings are permitted in the mixed use zone. 

Residences are allowed in the “Town Center,” “North Main Street,” and “Business” zones as well. Residences are prohibited only in a tiny section of town zoned for industrial use, and at the Fort at No. 4 historic site. 

Were HB 1644 to become law, Charlestown likely would be carved out of the state-of-the-art 5G cellular network that soon will connect much of the planet to ultra high-speed wireless broadband service. 

This scenario would be repeated in town after town throughout New Hampshire. The bill would risk wiping chunks of New Hampshire off the 5G map, creating large gaps in coverage and exacerbating the digital divide that already holds rural areas back economically.   

If that weren’t bad enough, the bill violates the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.

New Hampshire’s Commission to Study The Environmental and Health Effects of Evolving 5G Technology concluded in its final report that “this Act says, among many other things, that the siting of any antennae cannot be denied due to health concerns.”

HB 1644 explicitly attempts to deny siting of antennae due to health concerns. It plainly violates federal law. 

Remote parts of New Hampshire are already economically disadvantaged relative to places located closer to commercial and technological hubs. Impeding the expansion of advanced communications technologies to these areas would hurt them, not help them. 

When New Hampshire Republicans start asking the state to regulate private businesses, something’s stopped making sense.

GOP Executive Councilors Joe Kenney and Dave Wheeler last week suggested the state should forbid private businesses from requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Florida and Texas have passed such big-government dictates, and Montana adopted a similar one in May.

But most of the 12 states that have passed some form of restriction on vaccine mandates have prohibited only government entities, not private ones, from requiring proof of vaccination. (New Hampshire is one of those.)

The reason for the distinction is simple. While it’s undisputed that government can set its own policies for its own facilities, it’s generally accepted, in Republican and conservative circles at least, that government ought to have only the most limited authority to impose its will on private business.

That the Biden administration is pursuing a legally dubious (read: blatantly unconstitutional) nationwide vaccine mandate is no justification for New Hampshire to impose a legally dubious mandate of its own, even in response.

It’s not difficult to parse out where the free-market, limited-government Republicans should fall iu this dispute.

Employers, as property owners, have the basic right to control access to company property and to determine what level of risk is acceptable within that property.

Government has a strictly limited role, intervening only to protect individual rights or to prevent externalities that harm others.

That’s why it’s illegal to dump raw sewage into the Merrimack River, or to racially discriminate. 

But the choice not to vaccinate against communicable diseases never has conferred a similar legal protection against discrimination because, obviously, no one has a natural or civil right to transmit dangerous communicable diseases.

Employees who choose not to get vaccinated against a potentially fatal communicable disease simply do not have a right to keep whatever job they happen to hold, even if their reasoning for refusing vaccination is sound and their concerns are valid.

They also have no right to force others to associate with them. Though they remain free not to vaccinate, they have no legal basis for then turning to the government to force others to associate with or employ them.

The state has no grounds for intervening in these private business decisions.

Gov. Chris Sununu called a state ban on private-sector vaccine mandates “Communism.” That goes too far. But such intervention certainly would represent a small step toward statism and away from property rights and personal freedom.

The Center for Disease Control’s plainly unconstitutional eviction moratorium, begun in the Trump administration and continued by President Biden, is much more than a presidential abandonment of the rule of law. It’s a rejection — and reversal — of the very foundation on which James Madison based all government power — private property rights. 

And the problem it’s trying to solve would be much less of a problem were it not for other government restrictions on private property. 

Government in the United States exists to protect individual rights, including the right to property. In fact, Madison believed that government itself was justified primarily for the purpose of protecting property rights. 

As Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of government is to “secure these rights” — the unalienable ones endowed by man’s creator. 

Madison, explaining his thinking in 1792, wrote that protecting property rights was the very foundation of government. 

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

Madison believed that people had property rights not just in physical objects they owned, but in their ideas, their beliefs, and their labor. The Constitution secures rights to free speech and religious worship because each of us has a property right in our own conscience and our own faith. Our ideas and our thoughts are a form of property on which government can have no claim, he believed. 

Protecting these individual rights from violation by other individuals or groups was the very purpose of government, Madison wrote. And violating property rights was inherently unjust.  

“That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.” 

The eviction moratorium is just such an arbitrary seizure. It appropriates private property for public purpose, and does so both illegally and unnecessarily. 

The federal and state governments have had other, less intrusive means of achieving the eviction moratorium’s goals. The obviously correct method is to pay landlords, not to appropriate their property. 

To this end, the federal government has made $46.55 billion in rental assistance available. Being the federal government, it has ineptly managed this aid, most of which remains undistributed. But the government can’t argue that its own bureaucratic incompetence is a justification for illegally appropriating private property. 

Today, many arguments for extending the moratorium rest primarily on leftist political theory, not public health. The idea is not that evictions will spread COVID, but that they are an evil in and of themselves because they allow people with power and money to exploit people who have less power and money. 

This, however, is Madison’s very definition of unjust government, that being one in which property “is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.”

Whether it exists for public health or “social justice” reasons, the eviction moratorium is an unconstitutional Madisonian nightmare. 

And, as with so many government “solutions,” it is a property rights violation issued to correct a problem caused by previous property rights violations. 

America’s primary housing problem is not that the country has too many “greedy” landlords, but that the country has too few of them. 

The vast majority of landlords in the United States are not corporations, but individuals, Census Bureau data show. As the Pew Research Center put it last week:

“Landlords aren’t a homogenous group of faceless corporations. In fact, fewer than one-fifth of rental properties are owned by for-profit businesses of any kind. Most rental properties – about seven-in-ten – are owned by individuals, who typically own just one or two properties, according to 2018 census data. And landlords have complained about being unable to meet their obligations, such as mortgage payments, property taxes and repair bills, because of a falloff in rent payments.”

It’s not big companies that provide so much American rental housing, but individuals who buy or build properties for investment purposes, often to provide a retirement income. And this entrepreneurship is suppressed by government.  

For decades, local governments have systematically constrained rental housing through a variety of private property restrictions. Knowing that people left free to use their property as they see fit would voluntarily build duplexes, apartments, and small rental homes, governments nationwide have banned or severely curtailed such construction. 

From rent control laws to bans on boarding houses and accessory dwelling units, localities have intentionally discouraged people from becoming landlords. Without such property restrictions, rental housing would be much more plentiful, rents would be much lower, and landlords would much have less power over tenants. 

Competition for tenants drives prices down and services up. Limiting the supply of landlords reduces that competition, which pushes rents up and services down. 

As is often the case, a seemingly intractable problem some say can be solved only by unprecedented government intervention was in fact caused in the first place by unwise government intervention and would be largely remedied simply by removing government restrictions that created the problem in the first place. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Hampshire last year, it’s unlikely that even the cleverest among us thought, “You know, this is going to turn people against local housing ordinances.”

Yet here we are in the summer of 2021, and housing is tied with COVID as the No. 2 concern of Granite Staters, according to a July University of New Hampshire poll. 

Granite Staters are most concerned about “jobs and the economy,” with 26% naming it their top concern, according to the July 26th poll. Ten percent of respondents cited “housing” as their top concern, tying it with COVID-19 for second place. 

That’s a five-fold increase from last July, when 2% of respondents named housing as their No. 1 concern. 

Surely this is related to the huge spike in home and rental prices that has made finding a place to live in New Hampshire feel like a Mad Max-style battle for a vanishingly scarce resource. 

Granite Staters aren’t quite donning leather outfits and fighting each other with home-made weapons over apartments and houses. Yet. But the stories from the real estate front lines aren’t pretty. Bidding wars have priced all but the best-financed families almost entirely out of the home and rental markets. 

Old timers tell stories of bygone days when high school graduates could get an apartment soon after landing their first job, and homes could be bought by people who didn’t own yachts and condos in Barbados. 

Children shake their heads, refusing to believe that such a Shangri-La ever existed. 

“Tell me, grandfather, of the time you rented an apartment without having to sell an organ on the black market.”

But the numbers don’t lie. As we noted last month, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment has gone up 24% in the past five years. The median home price in New Hampshire just surpassed $400,000.

The record rise in home prices and rents has left people feeling helpless, frustrated and angry. They’re watching their housing dreams evaporate before their eyes, and they know something is wrong. They might not know what, but they sense that this wouldn’t happen in a normal market.

And they’re right. The COVID-fueled surge in demand has collided with a NIMBY-fueled housing shortage. The result has been record price increases that the market can’t correct because the numerous local ordinances that caused the shortage remain in place.

For a recently reported example, see the excellent New Hampshire Sunday News story on some of the cases taken up by the new Housing Appeals Board. 

A Francestown couple wanted to subdivide some of their own property so their children could build homes on it and all of them could live together on the family land. People have been doing this in New Hampshire since colonial times. But the town refused to approve the changes. 

The family took the case to the Housing Appeals Board, which ruled in their favor in three months. A similar case took about 20 months to go through the court system. 

Stories like this are common, and they raise serious questions about the way we regulate housing in the “Live free or die” state. When you can’t even build a home for your own children on your own land, is it really your land anymore? 

Towns increasingly act like all land belongs to the community, not to the property owners. In the Francestown case, officials wouldn’t approve the family’s proposal in part because the officials thought the land would look better with more trees. They demanded the family replace trees that had been previously — and legally — cut. 

This kind of regulatory overreach is how the state wound up with a housing shortage.

Things are so bad that housingmight be at the point where Stein’s Law kicks in. 

“If something cannot go on forever, it won’t,” economist Herb Stein mused. Housing prices cannot rise forever. At some point, people will demand solutions. We seem close to that point.

Our poll in May found that people are willing to relax local housing regulations in exchange for lower prices. A majority (51%-29%) support relaxing local regulations so developers can build more rental housing, and a plurality (45%-34%) support relaxing local regulations so developers can build more homes. 

The pandemic has exposed numerous unnecessary and harmful regulations, from prohibitions on telemedicine to bans on sidewalk dining. Local anti-housing ordinances can be added to the list. 

People want more housing, and rolling back bad ordinances is the way to get it. The only question is, who will have the political will to push for changes?  

At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, restaurant customers wanted to order beer and wine with their delivery dinners. There was just one problem. That was illegal.

New Hampshire’s alcohol laws reserved beer and wine delivery exclusively for other types of businesses. This was such an obvious financial challenge for restaurants during the shutdown that fixing it became a top priority. 

Relief came on March 18 when the governor issued Emergency Order 6, which let restaurants include beer and wine with food deliveries. 

In the months that followed, no spike in alcohol problems was traced to these beer and wine deliveries. They proved so safe that during a February 16 public hearing on Senate Bill 66, a bill to make the change permanent, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission testified in favor. 

With the support of the Liquor Commission, SB 66 passed and was signed into law on July 9.

The absence of any public health fallout from relaxing the ban raised an obvious question. Why did this prohibition exist in the first place?

As with so many business regulations, the state’s ban on restaurant alcohol delivery had nothing to do with public health or safety. It was part of a post-Prohibition alcohol distribution system crafted by legislators, regulators and businesses. The system’s rigid categories limit competition and confer cartel-like status on certain industries.

Under the new law, you can order beer or wine from a restaurant, but only with food. Why only with food? 

In New Hampshire, delivering alcohol by itself has long been reserved for groceries and convenience stores. They can deliver beer and wine to customers in unlimited quantities, so the ban obviously is not a public health issue. 

The prohibition resides in RSA 179:15, which allows liquor license holders to “transport and deliver anywhere in the state such beverages and wines ordered from and sold by them….” All liquor license holders “except on-premises licensees,” that is.

During the Feb. 16 public hearing, the New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association testified against SB 66, arguing that it would “unnecessarily expand existing licensing categories.”

That comment shows the problem with the laws. The legal presumption is that the categories are natural and any change is unnecessary. In reality, the categories are both unnatural and unnecessary. 

Consumers just want wine with their delivery dinner. Making them order dinner from the restaurant and wine from the supermarket never made sense. 

Though restaurants now can deliver beer and wine, some nonsensical restrictions remain. The order must include food, and the beverages “shall be transported in their original, manufactured, sealed containers and shall consist of no greater than 192 ounces of malt beverage or 1.5 liters of sparkling or still wine.”

And if you want to order your favorite restaurant’s signature cocktail to go, well, you’re in the wrong state. New Hampshire is the only New England state not to allow cocktail delivery during or after the pandemic. 

An amendment proposed by Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, to allow cocktail delivery did not survive. 

It should not have taken a global pandemic to legalize restaurant delivery of beer and wine, just as it should not have taken a global pandemic to allow the practice of telemedicine or the decriminalization of home haircuts. 

But regulatory regimes are incredibly hard to fix because so many people and organizations have vested interests in perpetuating them. 

And with so few media outlets covering regulatory issues, consumers have no idea that the reason they couldn’t get a beer with their delivery burger was because lawmakers thought people should be forced to give that business to retail stores, not to restaurants, no matter how costly or inconvenient that might be.

The good news for consumers is that this dumb regulation is dumped. The bad news is that many others remain. 

In an unexpected twist, New Hampshire has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as the only New England state that does not allow delivery cocktails.

In Boston, Bangor and Burlington, you can order a Cuba Libre with your delivery dinner. But not in Bartlett, or anywhere else in New Hampshire.  

Dozens of states — including the rest of New England — allowed restaurants to include beer, wine and cocktails in delivery orders when COVID-19 emergency orders closed restaurant dining rooms. New Hampshire allowed beer and wine, but not cocktails. 

When emergency orders were lifted, every other New England state extended cocktail delivery until the middle of next year or later. 

Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island allow delivery cocktails through at least the first quarter of 2022. Vermont’s allowance runs through June of 2023. Connecticut’s expires in June of 2024. 

They are among 30 states that have allowed restaurants to deliver cocktails, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Fourteen states granted temporary allowances, and another 16 passed laws to make delivery permanent.

Only three states that allowed cocktails to go during the pandemic — New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — did not extend those emergency measures. 

Maybe in the next legislative session, the “Live free or die” state can catch up with the rest of New England on deregulating mixed drink delivery. 

There are two sides of the affordable housing equation: incomes and housing prices. While the market pushes New Hampshire incomes higher, the government prevents it from lowering home prices. 

Casual news readers can get only one side of this picture because reports on wages and housing costs often focus on the wage side and ignore or downplay the home supply side.

For example, a recent report by the New Hampshire Low Income Housing Coalition cites the state’s minimum wage and shows various wage rates that would be needed to afford various types of apartments in the state. 

But as we pointed out in May, it’s almost certain that no one in New Hampshire earns the $7.25 minimum wage. Market competition has driven wages much higher.

With labor scarce (the state tabulated more than 34,500 job openings in the state in May and June), the market has been pushing up compensation for years. The average weekly wage of workers covered by unemployment insurance in New Hampshire rose by 18.5% from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2020, state data show. 

The average weekly wage in the Manchester-Nashua metropolitan area was $1,565 in the fourth quarter of 2020, up $255 from the same quarter the year before. 

Employment website indeed.com pegs the average laborer pay in New Hampshire at $16.29 an hour. 

In short, a highly competitive labor market is taking care of the income side of the housing equation. But the opposite is happening on the home price side. 

As we noted last week, a severe shortage of housing is sending rents and home prices to record highs. 

Rents for a two-bedroom apartment have risen 24% in the last five years, reaching a median of $1,498 this year. The median home price statewide passed $400,000 this spring. In Rockingham County, it passed $500,000. 

In a free market, developers would quickly build more supply to meet the huge demand. After all, there are huge profits to be made right now selling homes. But local governments have prevented the housing market from functioning properly. 

Record price increases are not a post-pandemic phenomenon. Prices have been surging for years because local government regulations have prevented developers from meeting the housing market’s sky-high demand. 

Developers aren’t refusing to build. Towns and cities are refusing to let them. 

Local planning and zoning restrictions have made the construction of new units both difficult and expensive. That’s true of both single-family homes and multi-family housing. 

Estimates vary, but the state’s housing shortage generally is pegged at approximately 20,000 housing units. The newly formed New Hampshire Council on Housing Affordability identified a critical need for 13,500 housing units by 2024.

Eliminating this shortage will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, until local governments remove some of the unnecessary obstacles that are causing it. 

Local elected officials would be more likely to remove housing obstacles if they understood that vocal anti-housing activists are not representative of most residents. 

Our poll in June found that a majority of New Hampshire voters (51%-29%) supported relaxing some local government regulations to allow more rental housing, and a plurality (45%-34%) supported relaxing some local regulations to allow for more single-family housing. 

Allowing the construction of much-needed housing is not unpopular. In fact, opponents of new construction are in the minority in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, they make up majorities of many local boards and of the crowds who turn up to their meetings. 

That’s a major reason why the market solution we’ve seen on the income side of the housing equation has not happened on the supply side.